The PGA TOUR heads to Arizona this week as TPC Scottsdale hosts the Waste Management Phoenix Open. The course is a par-71 measuring at 7,300 yards with Bermuda grass greens. The winning score usually settles around the 17-under range.
The purpose of this article is to highlight the best cash game/single-entry plays on the DraftKings main slate; however, these players are often great options in any contest type.
My analysis will frequently reference Strokes Gained, a set of proprietary metrics generated by the PGA TOUR using millions of data points to calculate how many shots on average it takes a player to get the ball in the hole from every distance and situation. Strokes Gained is now available in the FantasyLabs PGA Models.
There are a variety of Strokes Gained-related metrics, but the six main categories that you need to know include:
- Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee (SG: Off-the-Tee)
- Strokes Gained: Approach (SG: Approach)
- Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green (SG: Around-the-Green)
- Strokes Gained: Putting (SG: Putting)
- Strokes Gained: Ball-Striking (SG: Ball-Striking), which is SG: Off-the-Tee + SG: Approach
- Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green (SG: Tee-to-Green), which is SG: Ball-Striking + SG: Around-the-Green
For more information on Strokes Gained data and how to use it, check out this article from Bryan Mears on The Action Network, which unpacks each of the above metrics in detail. I also recommend Chris Murphy’s Strokes Gained column each week, which highlights golfers to buy and fade following each round of play at that week’s PGA TOUR event, and Matthew Vincenzi’s weekly “Stats That Matter” column, which highlights which Strokes Gained sub-metrics matter the most for a given course. The following players listed are based on DraftKings scoring and pricing.
Justin Thomas ($10,800 DraftKings)
This has the feel of a JT victory week.
He’s coming in a little under the radar with Rahm, Schauffele and Rory all playing pretty well last week at the Farmers Insurance Open. We haven’t seen Thomas since the Sentry Tournament of Champions in early January, where he posted a third-place finish. His game off the tee has been a little suspect lately, but it’s not something I’m particularly worried about. There’s also been some controversy surrounding Thomas of late after being dropped by his sponsor Ralph Lauren after uttering a homophobic slur a few weeks back. It should keep his ownership in check.
His rolling stats and tournament history are as good as anyone in the field this week. Despite his subpar play off the tee, he still ranks fifth in this field in SG: Tee-to-Green across his past 12 rounds, largely in part to his locked-in approach game. He sits second in this field in SG: Approach in the same time frame, as only Keegan Bradley has been better in that department. More on him a little later.
Thomas has played here six times and posted four top-20s, with back-to-back third-place finishes over the past two years. He makes for a really strong cash-game anchor, and you even get a slight discount from Rahm and Schauffele.
Rory McIlroy ($10,600 DraftKings)
If you do not feel like starting your team with JT, McIlroy is probably playing the best golf of anyone in the field at the moment. He’s been absolutely locked in these past two weeks, despite a mediocre 16th-place finish at the Farmers. He gained over four strokes Tee-to-Green in two of his three rounds on the South Course at Torrey Pines last week, which as a quick refresher sits at a monstrous 7,700 yards in length. Not many people on this planet have that type of ability.
McIlroy might get a slight knock due to this being his first appearance in the desert, but that should not be factored into anything since he can show up anywhere anytime and blow away a field.
The Northern Irishman ranks No. 1 in this field in SG: Off-the-Tee over his past four rounds, while sitting fourth in total strokes gained in that span, as well. This all despite not being able to make a putt if his life depended on it. He was great in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago as well, but we have no shot link data for European TOUR events. It’s not often we get McIlroy at under $11,000 on DraftKings, so let’s take advantage of this gift and play him.
Will Zalatoris ($9,000 DraftKings)
This kid is a superstar in the making, in case you didn’t know. No moment is too big for him, as we have already seen, evidenced by his sixth-place finish at the U.S Open in his TOUR debut back in September. After the holiday break, he showed up at arguably the toughest course on tour last week and finished tied for seventh.
Zalatoris sits third in this field in SG: Tee-to-Green, fourth in SG: Ball-Striking and third in total strokes gained, all over his past 12 rounds. He’ll be making his debut at the WMPO, but his price does not yet reflect his talent and he makes for one of the strongest plays on the board. We’ll soon be seeing him priced over $10,000 on DraftKings.
Corey Conners ($7,900 DraftKings)
Same old story for Conners, his Tee-to-Green game is as elite as anyone on TOUR, but his putting constantly holds him back from truly contending. Last week was no different, as he lost strokes putting in two of his three recorded rounds, while gaining Tee-to-Green in all three.
Conners has been locked in for quite a while now, ranking seventh in this field in SG: Ball-Striking over his past 24 rounds. He’s made eight straight cuts and has two top-10s over his past four tournaments. He finished in a tie for 45th here last year and is hitting it too well to be ignored in cash games.
Fire Conners up in all formats and hope he can drop a few putts.
Matt Kuchar ($7,700 DraftKings)
We’re going to give Kuch one more chance to show he hasn’t completely lost his game. There’s nothing specific that stands out in his rolling numbers, but he did gain 2.8 strokes Tee-to-Green in his last round at the Sony Open, so maybe there’s still some hope. Maybe the familiar sights of TPC Scottsdale will be enough for Kuchar, who’s never missed a cut in six trips here. He’s posted three top-10s in his past four years at this event and at $7,700 on DraftKings, all we are looking for is a made cut. I don’t mind him as a salary saver whatsoever.
Keegan Bradley ($6,900 DraftKings)
Bradley is probably the most enigmatic player on TOUR. He boasts one of the best Tee-to-Green games on earth but cannot putt to save his life. However, we are getting an insane discount on him this week at a very nice price of just $6,900 on DraftKings. He’s made seven of nine cuts at this event in his career, including four top-25 finishes. He ranks second in this field in SG: Approach over his past 16 rounds, trailing only Zalatoris for the top spot in that time frame. Bradley is usually hit or miss, but his price is tough to ignore this week at a course he likes.
Daniel Berger ($9,600 DraftKings)
Honorable mention for the two-time TOUR winner Berger this week. He could’ve easily made the core play list, but he’s close enough in salary to prefer JT and McIlroy. However, the Florida native has four top-11 finishes in his six trips to TPC Scottsdale.
Berger’s short game has been carrying him of late, but he still ranks 30th in this field in SG: Tee-to-Green over his past 12 rounds. He makes for an elite tournament play, especially in three-max type contests, since he may be overlooked with all the big names we have in the field this week.
Pictured above: Justin Thomas
Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images